We are reaching the point of absurdity. Hardly a day passes that another VA upper-level manager manages to leave incriminating evidence lying around to be found. That a member of Congress would think reading that evidence of perfidy a horrible intrusion on the offending VA official’s privacy and even offer prayer up to Him to spare her job beggars the imagination. In addition, who let USB Allison “au natural” Hickey out without any makeup on yesterday? All these queshuns.
Having had the benefit of twenty years playing ball with the VA, I know that the present situation is a compendium of many problems that have come to represent the Perfect Storm for them. The invention of the internet, social networking, Google/Bing Search!, FacePlace and so on leads to the loss of anonymity. With everyone a potential paparazzi armed with their camera phones, no one can expect any privacy for very long. Eventually, the house of cards comes tumbling down and you are exposed for all to see.
VA has somehow attempted to put off the inevitable, crushing reality of their problems with, of all things, attaboys, stupendous bonuses, and a Nero-esque approach of letting it all eventually burn down around them. They simply have moved the inevitable date of doom forward again and again with false assurances, new programs, and a bonus program that rewarded some of the most egregious behaviour ever documented statistically. When confronted, they blinked. What had they done wrong? This was business as usual. Where were the apologists to bury this uncomfortable revelation?
Like a cheap Wal Mart sweater from China, this puppy is coming unraveled faster than we can catalogue the cast of characters and get a program typed up. Representative Jeff Miller has been chasing this tar baby for over three months. Each day brings new evidence of the criminal intent, the intransigence and the unwillingness of VA’s senior staffers to realize the USS Vermin Ave. NW is sinking. They proceed apace as if the whole imbroglio will clear up in the next few days and weeks, the ponies will be saddled and trotted out and the dogs brushed and groomed. And then, back to the status quo of bonuses, single malt scotch and low golf handicaps.
As for the Congressional aides’ visit to the Philadelphia VARO, it raises an interesting question. Several, actually. Why does VA need (and keep) a room wired for sound and video if they are a nonadversarial agency as they profess? From what budget were the funds allocated? And just exactly how many of these rooms exist across the 57 Regional Offices? This was a blatant attempt to collect negative evidence- illicitly- without the partys’ permission. The discovery of the tablet in the restroom further shows the orchestrated obfuscation preplanned and preordained from on high. “From on high” is the (former) Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Diana Reubens. She would be the underling beneath the Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey (her boss). Now where would Miz Reubens get the idea that she had the authority to tell the Philadelphia Veterans Service Center (Acting) Manager, Lucy “in the sky” Filipov, to ignore Representative Miller’s Congressional aides sent to ascertain benefits issues? You don’t suppose Miz Hickey told Miz Reubens to do this? Have you ever heard of the chain of command? With all the fuss, seems that would be the default setting right now at VA. Miz Reubens:”No ma’m. No way am I going out on the little branches and making a decision of that magnitude! Ignore Congressional aides and surreptitiously record them? Whoa there. That’s waaaaaaaaay above my pay grade, General Hickey.”
Acting VSC Manager Lucy Filipov has evaporated. Deputy USB Reubens has metamorphosed from a butterfly backwards into a caterpillar and now has Miz Filipov’s job. This just gets better and better. That Miz Wonderland Hickey is still trotting out apologies up on the Hill is the even bigger mystery at this stage. I’d have expected her to hook up to the static line and taken the green light before this.
For nigh on four months, this Pony show has been playing. Rep. Miller doesn’t run a “mainstream” committee that handles large appropriations he can manipulate like pork barrel politics. He is reduced to examining the needs for increased VA funding yearly, but cannot partake of the largesse directly. As such, most Congressmen do not aspire to the HVAC committee. Unless they feel the compassion and the milk of human kindness moves them to it. When you uncover a cesspool of this magnitude, which everyone has known about for years, and it metastasizes like a blastoma as you investigate it, it makes for excellent political theatre. It gets you in the news before your constituents just as it did Rep. Filner the skirt chaser. We do pray our Rep. Miller does not have any like foibles which might interfere with his upcoming election in Florida. He seems so talented at what he’s doing. No one before him has really done other than lip-whip Hickey and company. His technique is bearing fruit. Send a couple of sleuths to Philly and see what shakes out. In this case it was Lucy’s marching orders inadvertently left in the bathroom.
I have a friend who strongly believes in conspiracies and this appeases his appetite. He sees Illuminati afoot at Vermin Ave. I just see a wasteland of stupidity aided and abetted by opportunists so greedy that they inadvertently reveal themselves. Think about it. Freud would have a heyday with Miz Filipov leaving the smoking gun tablet in the shitter. It’s proof ( he would say) of her desire to atone for her sins against Veterans and an opportunity to admit her misfeasance as well as that of the VA upper-level management in general. Freud aside, I say she’s simpleminded and conflusticated. She’s underworked, overpaid and not accustomed to having this level of investigation in her castle. At least the VA’s Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) has the decency to drop her a line telling her well in advance they’ll be having a “surprise” visit.
To attribute intelligence to these VA chowderheads gives real career chowderheads a bad name. It besmirches the whole school of Chowderhood by tarring and feathering them with the same brush. Aspiring to management-level chowderheadedness requires years of unearned promotions, absolutely no conception of the job parameters, a personal disdain for Veterans and lastly, a desire to stab anyone in the back in the pursuit of personal gain and bonuses. VA promotes from within. They never go outside the box except for the good old boy (or girl) network. This is one major reason they have a dearth of Decision Review Officers (DROs). Their attrition rate is stupendous and provoked by the DRO wannabes realizing they don’t have the stomach to screw over Veterans with bogus denials. This, in turn, has now ballooned into a full-fledged backlog with few having authority to adjudicate the reviews. Oakland’s DRO reviews are reputed to now be reaching 600 days as of July 1st.
Every day seems to bring more damnation and ruin on the remaining defenders. One look at Hickey’s countenance in the above photograph tells us all we need to know about the toll of all that lying is doing to her. I’m sure she started with the best intentions but the vicious rat race of VA bonuses is a harsh taskmaster. The final casualty of truth is now exposed even more clearly. Rep. Miller holds all the cards. What is unclear is whether this will once again become a sleeper and return to the depths of the media’s attention. Given VA’s recent propensity to shoot holes in their shoes with their feet on board, I’d be loathe to take a bet that they are going to dig themselves out of this.
Senator Alan Cranston excavated the very same cesspool in 1988 and his colleagues created the present system we have now. By rights, this should have resulted in a Brave New Agency responsive to our needs. Sadly, it just set a new metric for greed. As late as 2009, VA still had no game plan to go paperless. This, alone, shows their mindset; their unwillingness to disturb a hopelessly dysfunctional system with some modern 21st Century far thinking. The agency is bereft of intelligence, guidance, ideas and personnel capable of effecting change. The hierarchy has made that a certainty by firing anyone who declares the Emperor naked. When apprised of his underlings’ lying and mischaracterization of the facts, Shinseki got the ax. The one guy with a modicum of ability is fired for his reliance on bogus employees.
We are expected to believe these misguided upper-management souls can all be returned to the fold. A massive new program of reeducation is touted as the panacea. We can’t fire them? We can’t rescind their bonuses? We just blindly accept their contrition for their sins and absolve them? We’ve had twenty five long years of this mismanagement and purposeful misrepresentation of what is afoot and we are asked to let bygones be bygones. VA is the proverbial junkie brother who comes to visit you every several years. Each time he tells you he has reformed and is about this close to entering rehab. Could you see your way to giving funds for one last fix before the cab arrives? Meanwhile your wrist watch and the cash in your wallet have already been pilfered while you were in the bathroom. Unfortunately for your junkie brother, he accidentally left the stolen evidence on the back of the toilet while he was shooting up.
That’s about where we stand today. I love this last rejoinder when Hickey could no longer say she’d look into it or have the OIG get to the bottom of it. She’s busted and morally bankrupt in Jeff Miller’s eyes as well she should be. Perhaps the lack of makeup was just in case tears were needed. No woman looks good with runny mascara. Tammy Faye Bakker taught us that much.
“I will not excuse it,” Hickey said when confronted during the hearing. “Without question, it ( planned stonewalling of Congressional aides) is unacceptable.”
Miller was not impressed with the apology. “Your commitment is appreciated but it is not believed,” he said.
Well spoken, Representative Miller.